2016 Books For A Better Life Award winner
When Megan Feldman Bettencourt found herself embittered after a breakup and a string of professional setbacks, she met an extraordinary man named Azim. Azim had forgiven the man who killed his beloved only son, and even reached out to the killer’s family. He truly seemed to be at peace.
As a veteran journalist, Megan recognized it for the amazing story it was. But as a self-admitted grudge-holder, she was perplexed. Was there something wrong with him, or was there something wrong with her? She wondered about our ability to forgive—why we have it at all, why we do it, and whether it can help us.
Triumph of the Heart is the story of Megan’s quest to understand this complex concept, from both a scientific perspective and a human one. She draws on cutting-edge research showing that forgiveness can provide a range of health benefits, from relieving depression to decreasing high blood pressure. She examines situations as mundane as road rage, as painful as cheating spouses, and as unthinkable as war crimes. Through stories of people and even communities who have forgiven in the toughest of circumstances, she shows us how they’re able to do it, the profound sense of freedom they feel afterward, and the evocative implications for peacemaking worldwide.
This journey takes Megan from recovered addicts who restarted their lives by seeking forgiveness, to a Baltimore principal who used forgiveness techniques to eradicate violence in her school, to genocide survivors in Rwanda who forgave the people who killed their families and perpetrators who are still trying to redeem themselves.
Along the way, Megan strengthens her own powers of forgiveness, altering her life in ways she never expected. With grace and compassion, she reveals that our human capacity for forgiveness not only makes us healthier and happier, but is the key to healing, growing, and living well.
Journalist Bettencourt presents a study on the implications, both sociological and personal, of forgiveness. She outlines physiological research linking resentment to an increased risk of heart disease and depression, and forgiveness to reverses in both. Evolutionary psychologists note innate human tendencies toward both vengeance and reconciliation, explaining that a pragmatic need for collaboration often inspires people to embrace the latter. Delving into the topic of forgiveness leads to a wealth of inspirational figures, including a father who forgave his son's killer and formed an foundation to reduce gang violence, and a woman who narrowly escaped death during the Rwandan genocide, finding strength through her Christian faith and reconciling with her surviving family. A recovering alcoholic explains the importance of making amends during the 12-step recovery process, and a young woman describes the harrowing process of forgiving her rapist father. This journey through different narratives ends powerfully at a "forgiveness ceremony" at a Colorado retreat for at-risk youth. Bettencourt also intersperses installments of her own story throughout, self-deprecatingly calling it an "unoriginal collection of mediocre complaints." This compelling investigation into an important subject may well inspire readers to give the concept of forgiveness a bigger place in their lives.